Awareness Seminar :


The ICWA holds two Awareness Seminars annually for the students of its member colleges. The first of these seminars (for the year 2011 – 2012) was held in August; the topic was “Do you still want to remain a ‘Zippie’?” (NOTE: ‘Zippie’, a new coinage, refers to a person who is midway between a hippie and a techie).

The second Awareness Seminar is scheduled for January 2012. The topic is “Democratizing Democracy – Civil Society Awakens”.

                                                                                                ICWA AWARENESS SESSION
                                                                                                         January, 2012
Democratizing Democracy - Civil Society Awakens

Class Discussion

1. Would you say that Indian civil society which was asleep, has awakened?. What are the signs of this?

2. What means are being used, by those who are taking a stand, to clean up our democracy? Who is doing it? Is it likely to work? Give reasons.

3. Rajni Kothari says that our form of democracy gives voters a periodic chance to throw one set of rascals out but results in only replacing them with another set, because the voters have so few choices. What does she mean by this? What is the remedy for this state of affairs?

4. And yet the old adage – the only remedy for a failing democracy is more democracy – is still true. But what kind of democracy do we want? Is electoral democracy the only type possible?

5. What politics are expected from a true democracy - as regards the people’s interests, citizens’ rights, good governance ?

6. Have you personally done your duty where our democracy is concerned? Or are you among those who are satisfied with voting (and perhaps not even that) and leave all to those in power, expecting too much of them? What should you do?

Read the following :

The present hype over the Lokpal bill fails to consult the quintessential paradox of Indian Democracy, in spite of free and fair elections, of which we can justly be very proud, there is a growing disenchantment with politics and politicians. The public anger over corruption is strong evidence that something is severely wrong with our democracy. Electoral procedure is in the order of necessary means, the indispensable precondition to democratic governance, which is the end sought after. Now, means must never displace or dictate the ends; if they do, they betray and subvert the very reason for their use.

Critical reforms have been and still are repeatedly urged by numerous commissions with regard to MPs and MLAs, administrators, judges and others. But the political will to

implement them is lacking. We are failing our Constitution, not vice versa: the legislature is losing efficacy, the judiciary its credibility, the executive its trust. However, a one-point agenda pursuing violators with a more vigorous legislation, urgent though it may be, can only apply remedial measures for what is already wrong, but remedies, preventive measures, need to be applied at the source. There is no silver bullet to protect us from the rot of the system. An effective response must address the real issues affecting our democracy, not only the procedural ones. Good laws are a necessity, but not sufficient
for a viable and sustainable democracy. At best, they redress the corruption in the system, not the corruption of the system

According to Rajni Kothari, our form of democracy merely gives voters a periodic chance to throw one set of rascals out and replace them with another set., because the voters have so few choices. Our political parties leave nothing to choose from among them. Their partisan politics, already corrupted by vested interests and vote banks, is not likely to suggest effective and viable alternatives for the common good. The infected legislatures have spread the contagion to other statutory institutions, including the judiciary and the executive., and precipitated an acute alienation among citizens. This disillusionment with democratic governance opens the political space for extremist and authoritarian remedies – at first as .emergency measures, which often tend to get extended and institutionalized. This is the state of numerous struggling democracies that have failed – and ours could well be on the same path.

And yet, , the only remedy for a failing democracy is more democracy. What we need is more substantive rather than merely more electoral democracy - a politics for the common good, not one that serves sectarian interests and violates citizens’ rights. When elected leaders fail to deliver on good governance, the final guarantor of an effective democracy is an alert critical citizenry in a conscientized open society. As the exercise of power, politics must reflect civics or the rights and duties of citizens. Politics is too crucial to democracy to be left only to politicians. Too easily do citizens isolate themselves from politics, while at the same time expecting too much from those in power.. This leads to accumulation for those who have, and dispossession for others who have not.

Democracy cannot be a matter of merely deciding by majority vote. There are rights and duties of citizens, laws and obligations of government, all of which must be based on the fundamental democratic values of liberty, equality, fraternity. According to Toqueville, a multiplicity of civic associations of engaged citizens is crucial to the functioning of a modern state, both to support and to regulate it, so that it serves and does not alienate its citizens. Thus, Tocqueville believed citizens would be protected from the tyranny of the majority.

Civil society refers to all social groups and institutions located between the family and the state – a non-state autonomous sphere; empowerment of citizens; trust-building associational life; interaction with the state rather than subordination to it..

The movement started by the campaign and fasts of Anna Hazare, has now turned its attention to the need of reforms in the electoral system of the country, if we want to ensure a better democratic life for all its citizens. Some people are understandably afraid that the deep reforms needed may even call for another amendment in the Constitution. Whatever reforms may be needed, the values listed in the Preamble to the Constitution provide guidelines along which any attempt at updating must conform. The basic sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic structure must be adhered to, at whatever cost.

Group Discussion:

1. Go back to the 5 questions you discussed at the beginning of the session and discuss them again. Has your mind changed about the answers? In what way?

2. Write a plan for democratizing our democracy. Submit it to your teachers. The best plans will find a place in the ICWA Jubilee Souvenir.

References : Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection,( Delhi) Vol. 75, Nos. 9 & 11